Scottish-American lawyer Allan Rooney on laws of success
Allan Rooney, founding partner of Rooney Nimmo and president of the Scottish Bar Association of New York (ScotBarNY), reflects on the qualities needed to succeed in business.
Be entrepreneurially minded – if you’re wired that way
I didn’t grow up with a grand plan to live in America but was lucky enough to spend my third year at Edinburgh abroad, studying at the University of Texas Law School in Austin, and grew to love it here.
From being a wee kid in Glasgow, I’d always known I wanted to run my own business, and, breathing in the entrepreneurial air in the States, I knew I had found the place to do it. After graduating, I forwent the traditional legal diploma and set sail for New York City, beginning my professional career trading commodities in Manhattan and working as an international tax lawyer and commercial litigator before turning finally to corporate law.
I founded Rooney PC (now Rooney Nimmo) in New York when I was 30. Since then, the firm has grown steadily to encompass more than 20 lawyers and a wide range of practice areas as well as offices in New York, London, Edinburgh, and San Francisco. This year, we affiliated with a firm in Hong Kong, further expanding our legal reach as well as our client offer. Beijing and other cities loom on the horizon.
Over the course of my career, I have tried cases, represented companies in the Fortune 50, set up kitchen-table entrepreneurs, had some really interesting experience representing the British government and handled hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate transactions. As a firm, we have built a strong practice working as M&A and dispute advisers as well as a sort of ad-hoc general counsel for many of our clients, who derive significant value from our attorneys’ varied experiences in house and across a range of small and Big Law firms – and across many different areas of law that affect businesses.
Build the right team and culture
I knew that building a strong, successful practice would mean assembling the right team, building the right culture, and ensuring that what we offered to our clients was comprehensive, flexible and far-reaching. Between me and my partner, John Nimmo, who is based in Edinburgh, we have built a team of great international lawyers who are qualified to practise law in the US and UK. The addition of the Hong Kong affiliation this year is helping us to reach new clients on the Chinese mainland and across Southeast Asia, including in Malaysia and Singapore. Within this team, we have worked hard to instill a strong commercial ethos because as a smaller firm we need to be especially proactive in business generation, a function many larger firms take for granted. Beyond that, I am proud that we have built a firm that’s respectful of family leave, flexible working, and our team’s diverse backgrounds. More than ever, and rightly so, these are important qualities in a happy and productive working environment. You can’t take your eye off the ball, though; things are always subject to change and only ever a work in progress.
Recipe for success
Many of our clients are startups or in the early stages of international expansion. Wearing a founder’s hat myself has given me the understanding needed to give them the right sort of advice. Outside of law I have, for better or worse, gotten involved in other pursuits including real estate ventures, tech company investments and even restaurant ownership! In terms of client empathy, we too know that payroll depends on the ringing of the phone. It’s essential to have a passion for what you’re selling, and we care more than anything about the quality of our work and supporting our clients as attorneys and guides. We love what we do and I hope that’s obvious to others. I love nothing more than hearing about a new client’s business and trying to understand right away what makes them tick, what worries and excites them.
The world is your oyster
As you enjoy the university experience and set your sights on the future, it’s important to experience as many new things as possible. It goes by so fast! I really wish I’d done more with all the clubs. (I was at least religious about my intramural football…) Not wishing to sound too much like Mark Renton, but choosing life is the business you’re in right now. Meet people who have different views. Seek out those who inspire you and ask them for guidance on how they got to where they are. Even at uni, where everyone is the same age, be curious. Learn from those who had a different upbringing or are from another country. The diversity of the student body at Edinburgh was amazing to me after attending a fairly normal comprehensive school on the West Coast – and even after a year abroad in Texas! It’s never too early to build your professional network, and relationships can last a lifetime – I’m still tight with my buddies from the corridor in Lee House. Merit is important, but sometimes the only way to open a door is through the people you know. Contacts are everything – something I had to learn – especially in a city like New York.
Form opinions but don’t be afraid to change them. Leave your comfort zone behind. Ask questions and challenge yourself every day. Be your own best critic but try to smell the roses and enjoy those hard-won successes. Always be true to yourself. Don’t give up just because you don’t get to where you want to be straight away; you never know when opportunities will come your way. And remember, some things take time – very little that’s worthwhile comes easily. Pay your dues, but keep an eye on a goal and the kind of life you want to live.
Interested in practising law in the United States?
Allan is also President of the ScotBarNY which aims to connect lawyers and law students of Scottish descent or interest in Scottish culture. The Association offers guidance to law students and graduates from Scottish law schools on how to become qualified to practice or pursue further education in the United States. The Association can also help ease the transition of Scottish legal professionals moving into the New York area: https://www.scotbarny.org/